Friday, February 19, 2010

Lenten Discipline

The Season that God lends us to become holy has begun. Lent is a marvellous occasion to focus on eternity and the dust that our bodies shall become. "Remember, thou art dust and unto dust thou shalt return!" In a few short words we are told about our ancient origins and reminded of our destiny.
When the priest said those words with the imposition of ashes on our forehead he also signed us with a cross. Lent is a journey we pilgrims make to the Cross of Christ and then beyond to the glory of His Resurrection.
On this journey we are told by the Lord that we need to shed our preoccupation with the world, the flesh and the devil. To do so, we are told in Matthew's Gospel (6: 1-18) to give more time to prayer - God; to fasting - self discipline; and to almsgiving - needs of others. So the big three are:
Lest we lose ourselves and our souls in the world we must confront this world. In modern jargon we can call the temptations of the world the 3 W's - work, wealth and welfare!
So often we are overly consumed with work, that our occupation becomes a hazard to heaven. Our career and with it the ego's ever consuming appetite can eclipse the need for God. So the good Lord reminds us during Lent to prayer more, to refocus our attention on his Presence in our lives. He insists that the prayer must be private, from the heart, not just some external attention at Mass. He must become LORD of our lives.
In our age of materialism the want for things is overwhelming - just visit any sound and visual technology shop to appreciate the insatiable thirst for more sensual satisfaction. But the more we want the less we have, spiritually speaking. To offset this deadly drain on our spiritual wellbeing we think of others during Lent. We give so that we can receive. We can give in money or even better in time spent with the lonely, the sick, shut ins, etc.
Lastly, the inordinate drives of our fallen nature clamour for too much attention - be it physical, psychological or emotional wants. Remember we have a fallen - not corrupt - flesh that constantly seeks attention. If we lose the bridle it tends to control us - hence obesity, gluttony, lust and so forth. We are in control of our bodies. We manifest this control and bolster our spiritual strength by fasting and self denial from sensual delights to the palate over Lent. Whatever you do make it worthwhile, athletes do so for a game and we are in the game for eternal life as Christ's athletes.
Finally, the last word is on tactics. The First Sunday of Lent focuses on temptations. The Lord leads us through the lessons on temptations, so let's follow Him.

Temptations are not sins in themselves. Yet they can incite or predispose us to sin. If you play with fire, eventually you’ll be burnt. Toy with temptations and in the end you will succumb. On the other hand it is by overcoming temptations with virtue that we grow stronger and holier. It is by competing with better tennis players on the court that one’s game improves.
We are all weak humans, easily misled and confused. If Satan is likened to a hunter who is in search of prey, then he pursues us with stealth, noting our weaknesses and calculating our moves. He is the master of seduction who patiently plots our fall. In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke), we read about the temptations of Christ. We note how Satan waited until Our Lord was hungry before he tempted Him with food. Like an expert hunter, be assured—especially if you are pursuing a chaste life—that Satan, like an expert hunter who is shrewd and brilliant, is watching and waiting for you. He prepares his assault from afar, ready to strike you when you least expect it or when your guard is down.

First, he wants to disarm you from prayer, which is your armour and protection. Once you are more vulnerable, he gradually chips away at the fortress of your soul. Slowly but surely, he encourages imperfections by suggesting that you are too harsh on yourself. There is no need to go to Confession, and after all, others don’t go and they are good people. In time, those imperfections become venial sins that further distance you from grace and sanctity.
In order to tempt you into mortal sin, he masquerades evil as good. He sets the bait with exceptional care and provides the exact place, occasion, and circumstances. Seduction requires a snare that we can call an occasion of sin. How many young people every weekend frequent pubs and discos. Some of them may think that there is no evil in such places. It is true that the building, as such, is not evil. Yet, it is also true that in those places, late at night, drugs, alcohol, deafening music, empty conversations, obscene language, immodest clothing and sensual body dancing are instrumental tools of the Evil One that degrade our sexuality.

Add to this seduction his carefully chosen clientele, who are shrewdly placed before you as counsellors and friends. God has his servants, and Satan has his slaves. Some are patently aware of it; many, however, are not, for they are slaves primarily of sin and useful tools of his trade. One inmate of a security prison which I used to visit, remarked how corrupt young men became after being in jail with hardened criminals. These young ones left prison, after serving a term for drink driving, with an adept knowledge of and inclination for criminal activity, not to mention additional contacts.
Cast a backward glance over your life and recall how many times you were initiated into evil by the advice, behaviour and conduct of your mentors or companions. On many occasions it was the encouragement of ‘friends’ that enticed you to drink or to indulge in sexual exploits. Some of them may appear as good people, as Christians, to offer help when you were depressed or troubled. In the Old Testament, Job when troubled was tempted to sin by three counsellors who came to offer him their assistance. In the end, he provided them with counsel (see Job 3-31).

Every temptation presents itself as an attractive offer to the mind. Before Satan can enter your heart as he did the heart of Judas (see John 13:27), he must knock on the door of your mind. All temptations begin with a thought in your mind or as an image that evokes pleasure. Once the mind has assented to the temptation, the will consents and at that very precise moment we sin and grace is lost.
Be fortified this Lent then with prayer, fasting and good works so as to be healthy and holy in soul and body, and thus ready for the Lord when He calls you home.
God bless you

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